Wasting My Tech Fragments so You Don't Have To

I remember when Onslaught had just come out and we were all chasing this new tech fragment currency for gear, one of my guildies said something like: "Give it a couple of months and we'll have these things coming out of our ears!"

God, was he right.

Initially I was after fragments to acquire my first set bonus and a Tactical item for my main. Then I did the same for alts! Then I did the same for even more alts. At some point I ran out of max-level characters that needed gear.

Then there were the achievements to collect all the various gear sets and Tacticals - though don't get me started on how buggy these have been since launch. Still, it was something to work on, so I started to spend fragments on filling those out instead, even if it wasn't very satisfying. I don't like being capped on any currency though, and even in their now overabundance, tech fragments still felt special somehow, and like I shouldn't just let them go to waste.

One of my guildies who found himself in a similar situation decided to regularly buy "unidentified unique items" from Kai Zykken instead. If you've never had one of those, they cost a thousand tech fragments and 500,000 credits each and can turn into any Tactical item or a (supposedly) class/spec-appropriate set piece item.

We poked fun at him for being a gambler, but there was a method behind the madness: He really wanted the extremely overpowered Emergency Power set, which technically has a chance to drop in Dxun, but our experience has always been that the drop rates for any gear in there are abysmal and that you could go weeks and weeks without ever seeing a single piece. As his Vanguard tank wasn't even his main, gambling at Kai's in hopes of having a random gear piece turn into a piece of Emergency Power was therefore the only real avenue open to him. And he did get there in the end! It took him several months but he still ended up being the first person in the guild to complete this set.

Anyway, I initially kept scoffing at him because I'm really against engaging with these kinds of RNG shenanigans, but the more I struggled with finding ways to use up my own tech fragments the more I started to feel tempted myself. I eventually gave in when the Fulminating Power set for Guardians was released alongside master mode Dxun. I knew I wasn't going to go there, but my AoE taunt having two charges sounded awesome for my flashpoint tanking!

And thus, I too started buying random pieces of gear from Kai every week, but unlike my guildie I kept a spreadsheet with the results, with the goal of eventually sharing them on the blog. I'm not necessarily done with this particular experiment, but as I actually did achieve my 4-piece Fulminating Defense last week, I thought I'd share how long it took me:

To get to this point, my Guardian bought a total of 114 pieces of random gear from Kai (that's 114,000 tech fragments and 57 million credits spent for those keeping track at home).

The most annoying thing was that only 28 of those (less than 25%) actually turned into tanking items. 64 of them (56% and therefore the majority) turned into one of those annoyingly generic items like the Luck Always Changes Tactical that aren't really obviously beneficial for any particular class or role and mostly quite useless. And 19 (or 17%) turned into outright dps gear, despite of my Guardian always being in tank spec. At least I didn't have anything turn into gear that my class couldn't even wear, which is something that happened to one of my guildies on at least one occasion.

Looking at the time invested (obviously this had to happen over the course of many weeks as Kai is only in town on weekends and you can't store more than 10k tech fragments at once) and money spent I unsurprisingly can't really recommend this as a method of gear requisition as it's kind of ridiculous. Then again, if you're like me and sitting on more credits and tech fragments than you really know what to do with, upgrading your gear at 14-15 million per piece isn't a considerably worse way of wasting that money than anything else. And at least you might eventually get something truly rare as not many people have cleared Dxun on master mode to this day.

First world problems, am I right?


Bioware Addresses Darth Malgus Conquest Shenanigans

Back at the start of December I wrote about the Conquest meta being in a strange place, both in general and on Darth Malgus in specific, where a sort of "syndicate" of guilds had been dominating pretty much all the planets in recent months. I found this very peculiar, because while I can understand the concept of alt/sister guilds, only a small number of planets are conquerable most weeks, so once you go beyond three guilds or so you can't even guarantee all your members a win anymore, and then what's the point of even being a part of the whole thing?

I got some interesting comments from an ex-Shield of Destiny/Rest in Peace member that didn't portray the man behind it all in the best light, as he apparently just loves micromanaging dozens of guilds for his own entertainment and gets most of his points from spamming invites at innocent newbies on starter planets and the fleet, letting them generate high scores for the guild via levelling and then kicking them out again once they've outlived their usefulness.

The other week he/they took things another step further by deciding to dominate the entire leaderboard for Ilum with his/their pet guilds - a move that may now turn out to be the whole project's undoing.

You will be assimilated... wait, wrong franchise.

As it turns out, that move was so obviously strange that it prompted people to start talking about it both on reddit and the official forums, some of them going into more details about these guilds' mode of operation. While I always try to take anonymous comments on the internet with a grain of salt, there was a clear theme there that aligned with the comments I'd received on my blog post a few weeks earlier, and someone posted a very convincing screenshot of the guild log of one of the guilds in question, which showed dozens of people getting invited and kicked within the space of an hour.

I wasn't sure whether anything was going to come of it (yet), but Bioware actually paid attention and responded surprisingly quickly, saying that they will take action and change the system so that newly invited characters won't immediately start contributing towards a guild's score, and if you kick them out their contribution goes as well. That would certainly put a hard stop to the questionable "noob farming" that people were describing, and in the spirit of preserving guilds primarily as social spaces it's certainly a good move.

(Though I'm still not sure why all this even became a thing. It's not like it used to be in WoW back in Cataclysm when guild members would passively generate gold for the guild leader. As far as I can tell, this guy isn't getting anything out of this strange project other than possibly an opportunity to feed some personal illusions of grandeur.)

So far, the reception of the proposed change has been mostly positive, though there've been some grumblings about how it would also kill or at least greatly diminish "Conquest tourism" - that is to say a person's ability to join whichever guild is winning during any given week, make their minimum contribution to get the achievement for the win and then leave again. I can't say I would personally see that as a negative as I never thought highly of this practice (again, for me guilds are social spaces, so this sort of purely utilitarian approach isn't my cup of tea), but if Bioware finds a way to preserve people's ability to do this while still countering the mass-inviters that'd be fine by me too. It's just nice to see them paying attention.

(Of course, from my point of view the easiest fix would have been to backtrack on Conquest being so passive nowadays - this sort of systematic abuse has only worked because levellers generate Conquest points without even knowing what Conquest is. However, seeing how popular that change has been with people who like getting freebies for nothing I understand that this ship has sailed.)


Spirit of Vengeance as a Flashpoint

When I wrote about the second part of 6.2's story update, I said that I would make a separate post about what I think of Spirit of Vengeance as a flashpoint and in terms of mechanics. It took me a bit longer than expected to write this post because I wanted to make sure that I replayed it enough times first to form a well-rounded opinion.

For a lot of people, I think it made a very bad first impression because despite of having been on the PTS for testing beforehand, it launched in a ridiculously buggy state. People falling through the floor, mobs shooting through the walls... apparently some people's story progression got stuck entirely for a while. I was shocked when the ever-positive Swtorista actually made a tweet telling people not to bother with the flashpoint on launch day as it was just too buggy. (Though I can't link it now as she ended up deleting it later.)

Personally I was relatively lucky as I only had to deal with some mob pathing issues, a slightly buggy cut scene, and of course the first boss being horribly mistuned on story mode and having master mode health values at first. You better believe that he took me bloody long to kill, especially as a healer, but that's about as bad as it got.

Still, leaving aside any bugs and despite of the fact that I enjoyed the story, something about SoV left me feeling a bit meh. I always think back to the gorgeous environments we got in the flashpoints released as part of the traitor arc, and spending half an hour running through grey ship corridors just can't compare nowadays, even if a lot of the game's launch flashpoints used a similar setup. The trash mobs are also mostly just damage sponges with lots of health and no really interesting abilities. During a run with guildies, about the most interesting thing we observed was that some of the Mandos cast a crit buff on each other and perform a sort of "woohoo" emote whenever they do so, which we thought was kind of funny, but that was pretty much it.

The bosses aren't particularly great either. Aside from Heta Kol, they all have at least one mechanic that is somewhat confusing or it's unclear how you're supposed to deal with it. In one particularly memorable master mode run, the first boss, Gorga Brak, wiped us about ten times and we weren't quite sure why. We checked the guide on Vulkk but the mechanics we saw didn't entirely align with what was described there and we just couldn't figure out what was going wrong. Yet on other runs we one-shot him with no problems whatsoever.

Similarly, I remember Bask Sunn using some sort of mechanic that tethers two players together and us wondering whether we were supposed to be close to each other or run away from each other, but ultimately it didn't seem to matter. Troya Ajak also has this long cast called Songbird Volley that - again - makes you think that you're probably supposed to do something with it, but nothing really seems to make a difference to its damage output. That sort of thing just doesn't make for the most satisfying experience.

That said, I don't want to sound like I'm all down on this flashpoint. I did quite like many of the small ways in which the devs tried to make things a bit more interesting. There are lore clickies and hidden achievements to chase for example. On the second ship, there is an easy jumping puzzle that is quite fun to race across when playing in a group. (Though in my first run on story mode, I just ran straight through the "wall of fire" that's supposed to be blocking the way and forces you into the jumping puzzle... I wonder if me being able to do that was a bug too!) And on the Ash'ad ship, they set this little trap for you where you fall through the floor into a garbage collector and get attacked by a tentacle monster, which was a genuine surprise to me the first time and quite amusing. (Though it's a really rubbish trap, considering they don't follow up on it.)

Also, similarly to Objective Meridian, I found that Spirit of Vengeance actually got more fun on repeat runs. Weird hiccups with Gorga Brak aside, you can breeze through it pretty quickly and it doesn't have any of those mechanics that seem impressive or cute the first time around but then get more and more annoying as time goes on. Which is... fine, I guess. I still think Objective Meridian did it a bit better though by having more interesting and memorable boss fights to go along with it.


Reviewing Renown Ranks

When Galactic Command turned into Renown with Onslaught, that never-ending, not-quite-XP bar became a lot less important as a source of gear, and since your Renown rank didn't actually affect the level of gear you got our of your reward boxes anymore, there's been a lot less incentive to care about levelling it up ever since. Mind you, I still like making numbers go up, and there were multiple achievements to be had for getting every class to 100, and one character to the max of 999.

With how intensely I played at the start of Onslaught, the first 100 Renown ranks on my Commando flew by in no time, and I even missed it when I got the achievement for hitting rank 100 because I was too busy actually playing. (Or maybe it was a technical issue at the time? All I remember for sure is that I was somewhat disappointed when I realised that I'd failed to capture the big ding.)

The first couple of alts followed reasonably quickly as well, but after that my efforts became increasingly... scattered. For example it took me nearly a year to get an inquisitor to renown 100 because the class is not among my most frequently played, but also because I have several at max level and kept swapping between them. I was happy for my guildies when they hit their own milestones and earned the "Everybody Knows My Name" legacy title for hitting 100 on all classes, but even though I kind of wanted that achievement as well I just didn't want it quite enough, always preferring to hop on different alts all the time to work on their Conquest scores.

It was therefore only last month that I logged on one night and finally hit renown rank 100 on one of my multiple bounty hunters, the last class I was still missing for the achievement. Alas, not even one guildie was online to witness it, but it was still something.

Up next is the one to hit rank 999 on my main. Again, based on how quickly I burned through the levels at the start of the expansion, I should've already achieved it, but in practice my Commando main is still somewhere in the mid-500s. If I added up all the Renown ranks across my legacy though, I'd already be at more than 2000, so it's not as if I haven't been playing... also, unlike with the class-related achievement, I haven't seen many lay claim to having reached the 999th Renown rank, so I feel somewhat less behind the curve on that one.

Of course, this is all in the context of being surrounded by my guildies, most of whom are pretty hardcore in terms of how much time they spend in the game. I posted a poll on Twitter the other day to ask other players about their highest Renown rank at this point, and somewhat to my surprise, even more than a year after the system's launch almost 30% of respondents still said that they had yet to progress beyond rank 50 on any character.

Before Onslaught's launch, there was talk of having "seasons" for Renown ranks and the suggestion that they would reset every so often, which was one of those things at the back of my mind putting a bit of FOMO pressure on me to get that rank 999 achievement done sooner rather than later. We haven't heard anything about that since the system was actually implemented though, and based on those poll numbers I guess Bioware isn't feeling a particular rush to reset the numbers. Hopefully that means that I can continue to take my time (relatively speaking) and still get there in the end.